Spring Training Week One – Recap And Thoughts
I guess Cardinal fans can rejoice in one big positive from the first week of spring training: Grapefruit League games don’t count.
The reigning World Champions didn’t perform well in their first week of spring baseball, compiling a 2-3 record while also displaying some distracted pitching and defense. The offense, however, showed some serious sparks in at least two of the games. Here are some random thoughts about many of the aspects of the first week:
EL GORDO: Cardinal fans were all a-twitter over Matt Adams, the minor league first baseman who spent the week punishing baseballs with brutal glee. Adams crammed an opposite-field grand slam, an opposite-field three-run triple, a ringing double, and nine RBI into his first week. Hyperventilating fans (and some media types) hastily anointed him as The New Pujols based on one week of work. Sure, Adams’ first-week output reminds me of Pujols … and, unfortunately, Adams’ body reminds me of Gerald Laird.
WAINO MAKES GAIN-O: The return of Adam Wainwright to full-tilt pitching after a year of recuperation couldn’t have been any better. Waino pitched two excellent innings, surrendering no runs on one walk and two strikeouts. Even better, Wainwright said that he was pitching at 100% effectiveness and felt great. What exactly are the Cardinals putting into their Gatorade dispenser?
STIFFED: Unease crept into camp with the admission by the team that Chris Carpenter would be seeing specialists about lingering neck stiffness and/or pain. Carpenter hasn’t thrown much this spring, and entered camp already on a reduced program. The Cardinals did their usual tap-dance around the medical issue, but it’s clear that something is wrong with the toughest Cardinal pitcher since Bob Gibson. Hopefully the problem can be corrected in time for the second half of the season; as last year showed, we desperately need him when crunch time comes.
ACHES OF AGE: One of my biggest concerns about the 2012 team composition involved age and injury. While it’s true that certain parts of the club are young (the bullpen, for instance), the most important cogs in the pitching and offensive machinery are older players with dangerous histories of injury. This week saw Carpenter go down to neck stiffness and Carlos Beltran sit out due to shoulder stiffness (today Beltran is out due to sickness). We need to have full seasons from Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal, and Lance Berkman. Hopefully these nagging injuries are simply the result of starting up spring activities, and not an indication of the season ahead.
LACK OF D: It was frustrating to see some defensive problems crop up this week. These are simple things, like Shane Robinson missing a cutoff man or Erik Komatsu showing off a less-than-stellar arm in allowing a runner to advance home on a shallow single.
SLIMMER, MORE EFFECTIVE: Jake Westbrook lost 25 lbs. of fat in the off season, and apparently gained some of his control in the process. Westbrook looked very effective in Tuesday’s game against the Mets, throwing two scoreless innings. If you count his last inning in Game Six of the World Series, that means Westbrook has actually thrown three scoreless innings in a row. It’s like a miracle … it must be a contract year.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Adams, of course.
CONCLUSION: There were some exciting developments this week. Wainwright and Westbrook showed positive results, and Adams has certainly been the buzz of camp so far. The Cardinals also showed some late-inning life in Monday’s opening loss, which reminded me of the fight that rescued the 2011 club. You can certainly see a chemistry developing in this new, Pujols-free team; Mike Matheny has been a positive cheerleader and thoughtful guru in the early going. There seems to be quite a bit of joking going on among the guys, the first sign of a loose clubhouse. We have much to look forward to in the weeks ahead.